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Socialism as a Service

I've often remarked that the extravagent benefits often enjoyed by workers at Silicon Valley companies are roughly equivalent to what everyone receives in a social democracy. Full healthcare benefits? Check. Commuter benefits for people who need them? Check. Childcare? Check. Etc. People need those benefits, but they've mostly been the preserve of the wealthy - despite them being perfectly possible for everyone.

Similarly, the response to Covid-19 in the US has been equivalent to how many social democracies operate as a matter of course. Decent unemployment insurance, stronger support for the homeless, an eradication of the predatory bail system, and so on - these are things that we've needed to do for years. That they're now happening in the midst of a global pandemic only demonstrates that the barriers to doing so were always illusory.

I'm Head of Engineering at a startup that provides 401(k) retirement benefits. Our mission is to help everyone build a stronger financial future - and in particular to support people who are on lower incomes, working for the vast majority of American businesses. My personal opinion is that I would prefer to see a fair pension system; 401(k)s have some fundamental flaws that adversely affect both the financial markets and individual employees. In some ways, they're a forcing function to keep workers in their jobs. But it's highly unlikely that we'll see a public pension system, so building an equitable, accessible 401(k) platform is the pragmatic thing to do - it will provide a benefit to many people that fills a gap where government has fallen short.

There are many places in American society where government should provide benefits or safety nets but isn't. It's a more libertarian, individualistic society; community care is far less a part of the culture. One can debate the merits of that (I think you know where I stand), but there are ways startups and other organizations can fill in the gaps.

For example: what would it take to disrupt the health insurance market? Yes, we need to continue fighting for Medicare for All, and hopefully we'll get it soon, but let's assume that we continue to have an obstructionist in power. Forget the current system and its inefficient brutality: what would a genuinely better alternative look like?

What would it take to disrupt unemployment insurance? Or disability benefits? How can a startup empower people to own their own homes in a non-predatory way?

I believe that government should be solving these problems. I believe in a social contract and that we all need to take care of each other as a community. But while that dynamic has so badly failed in America, how can mission-driven businesses undermine and disrupt the worst tendencies of American capitalism so that it once again works for ordinary people? What do real businesses that empower ordinary people look like? If we can't embrace real social democracy in the way most developed countries do, how can we offer Socialism as a Service?